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Celebrate a Puerto Rican Christmas

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Celebrate a Puerto Rican Christmas

A Christmas Display in Old San Juan

Photo © Zain Deane
The Puerto Rican view of the Christmas season is that it’s not so much a sprint as it is a marathon. The holidays begin as early as November and can continue until mid-January. That kind of revelry far exceeds the 12 Days of Christmas, and includes some wonderful island traditions. So if you want to get into the Christmas Spirit, Puerto Rico style, here's what you need to know.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Roughly three weeks, from start to finish.

Here's How:

  1. Attend a Misa de Aguinaldo
    From December 15-24, churches conduct misas de aguinaldo, masses held at dawn featuring the singing of aguinaldos, which are Puerto Rican versions of Christmas Carols.

  2. Catch a Parranda
    A parranda is the local translation of carolers, who will travel around the neighborhood singing aguinaldos. Parrandas get going in late November and can still be found in January.

  3. Celebrate Nochebuena
    Christmas Eve trumps Christmas Day for most Puerto Ricans. This is when a typical Puerto Rican Christmas dinner is served, consisting of lechón (roast pork), pasteles (patties), and arroz con gandules (rice ‘n beans). The traditional Christmas dessert is tembleque, which is a kind of custard with coconut, cornstarch, vanilla, and cinnamon. Instead of eggnog, you’ll have coquito, or coconut nog. And after dinner, many Puerto Ricans attend a midnight mass known as the Misa de Gallo or “Rooster’s Mass.” You might just catch a live reenactment of the nativity scene.

  4. Eat Your Grapes New Year's Eve in Puerto Rico is appropriately called Año Viejo, or "Old Year," and it's a fun time to be outside; fireworks, honking cars, and the cacophony of celebration can be heard everywhere. At the stroke of midnight, local tradition demands that you eat 12 grapes for luck. You'll also find some people sprinkling sugar outside their house for good luck or throwing a bucket of water out the window to expel all the negatives of the old year and get ready for a fresh start. As for where to be when the clock strikes 12, head to the Puerto Rico Convention Center for the fireworks show.

  5. Collect Grass for the Camels
    On the night before January 6, Three Kings Day, Puerto Rican children collect grass and place it in a shoebox under their beds for the Three Kings' Camels. (The Kings themselves don't get a plate of cookies or a glass of warm milk.)

  6. Celebrate Three Kings Day
    The grand finale of the season for most of the island is El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, or "Three Kings Day." This day is marked with a large celebration in San Juan, and children can go to La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion, to receive free gifts.

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